HEALTHY cows produce fewer methane emissions, and that discovery by Agriculture Victoria (AV) scientists is helping dairy farmers to breed ‘environmentally friendly’ cows.

Emerging challenges such as climate change and a rising consumer interest in the ethical production of food and fibre, has motivated the dairy sector to consider how farmers might reduce their environmental footprint, while at the same time increase profitability.

The DairyBio program – a joint initiative of the state government, Dairy Australia and the Gardiner Foundation – was established in 2016 to address these challenges.

AV Principal Research Scientist Professor Jennie Pryce, who is leading the DairyBio animal program, has identified the traits cows of the future will need to possess to increase the sustainability and profitability of dairy farms.

“The cows of tomorrow will have lower methane emissions per litre of milk produced and they will live longer, produce healthier calves, have good metabolic efficiency and low maintenance requirements,” Prof Pryce said.

“These cows may not look much different to the cows you see today, but they’ll be more profitable for dairy farmers, for a longer time.”

According to Prof Pryce, breeding long-lasting cows that are more efficient and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions is crucial, not only to the industry’s sustainability in the future, but also to improving public perception of dairying.

Victoria is a leading contributor to Australia’s dairy sector, accounting for 77 per cent of Australia’s dairy exports valued at $2.1 billion, with the gross value of milk produced in Victoria worth $2.7 billion (2018-19).

However, as a result of climate change and other regulatory and trade changes, Dairy Australia has estimated that dairy farmers will need to up productivity by 1.5 per cent per year to maintain profitability, and the industry is looking to science to provide the solution.

“Advanced genetics underpin and directly contribute to at least half the observed changes in animal productivity,” Prof Pryce said.

“This, together with well-structured breeding programs and improved management, will result in more efficient and profitable cows of the future.”

It is thanks to cutting-edge genetic science being supported by the DairyBio program, that the key genetic traits needed to breed the socially acceptable cow of the future will soon be readily available to farmers.

A potential emissions index is a tool being pioneered by AV that will allow farmers to breed cows that produce fewer methane emissions.

The plan that will lead to a tool that farmers can use is being co-developed with DataGene (responsible for national dairy evaluations).
While the DairyBio program is already delivering practical solutions to emerging issues facing the dairy sector, the next iteration of the program – DairyBio21–26 – is expected to build on the work to deliver genetic gain and management tools to ensure Australian dairy cows are future-ready.

For more information about the initiative visit dairybio.com.au.